Effects of pharmacotherapy on sleep-related outcomes in adults with chronic low back pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials

Emma A. Craige, Scott D. Tagliaferri, Sally A. Ferguson, Hannah Scott, Daniel L. Belavy, Dayna F. Easton, Paul Buntine, Aamir R. Memon, Patrick J. Owen, Grace E. Vincent

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Background: Adults with chronic low back pain (CLBP) suffer impaired sleep. Medications for CLBP can impact sleep which in turn may influence treatment outcomes. This systematic review and meta-analysis examined the effects of pharmacotherapy (any type) on sleep in adults with CLBP. 

Methods: In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we searched PubMed, CINAHL, SPORTDiscus, PsycINFO, EMBASE, and CENTRAL from inception to 10 July 2022. Randomised controlled trials that investigated the effects of pharmacotherapy on sleep in adults with CLBP were included. Manual citation search of relevant systematic reviews and included studies were also conducted. Mean change from baseline for sleep outcomes (e.g., sleep quality, total sleep time, wake after sleep onset) was the effect of interest. Pairwise inverse-variance random effect meta-analysis was performed to impute pooled estimates (Hedges’ g or risk ratios). The Hartung-Knapp-Sidik-Jonkman method was used where there were ≤5 studies. The Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) system was used for evaluating the certainty of evidence. This study was registered with PROSPERO (CRD42022309419). 

Findings: Assessment of 3959 records resulted in nine studies (n = 2927) being included. Pharmacotherapy for CLBP management had a small, yet unlikely clinically significant, effect on improving sleep in adults with CLBP, when compared to placebo (g [95% CI]: −0.23 [−0.37, −0.09], p = .0009; I2 = 30.1%; n = 1433; studies: n = 8; GRADE: low). Notably, no eligible studies investigated the effect of sleep medications in this population, despite being within the scope of this review. 

Interpretation: Pharmacotherapy used to manage CLBP provided improvements in sleep in adults with CLBP. Given that these effects were small and unlikely clinically significant, clinicians could consider alternative treatments (e.g., non-pharmacological interventions) for managing sleep in adults with CLBP. However, low to very low certainty of evidence precluded strong conclusions. To improve certainty of evidence and confidence in the effect estimates, future research needs to use robust method to minimise bias. Additional research evaluating multiple sleep characteristics, using both validated objective and subjective measures, is also warranted to further investigate the influence of distinct sleep parameters. 

Funding: The Summer Research Scholarship from the Appleton Institute, Central Queensland University, Australia.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101749
Number of pages13
Early online date18 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • Low back pain
  • Meta-analysis
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Sleep
  • Systematic review


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